An Eisner-nominated writer and artist best known for an uncommonly large body of gritty, character-driven, violent and political creator-owned work including "Channel Zero," "Demo," "Local," "Northlanders" and the long-running Vertigo series "DMZ," Brian Wood is finally ready to take on his dream project:
A 1990s superhero book set in the WildStorm Universe! A little team you may have heard of called... DV8. Wait, what?
"This is the thing that is probably going to surprise a lot of people who read my work, and also make me sound a little dorky, but I've literally been trying to write this book for most of my career," Wood confessed to CBR News. "I've pitched DV8 to WildtStorm easily a half-dozen times over the last decade, and even this version now wasn't the easiest sell in the world. I like to think it speaks to the quality of my story that it convinced WildStorm to re-launch this book despite not having any previous plans to do so."
That story is "DV8: Gods and Monsters," an eight-issue miniseries illustrated by Rebekah Isaacs ("Ms. Marvel"). Designed for new WildStorm readers and fans of Wood's previous work, the revival stars the DV8 characters who made their debut in the eponymous title by Warren Ellis and Humberto Ramos from the mid-'90s, which was perhaps ahead of its time in depicting the lives of variously warped, deeply selfish and ultra-violent super-powered adolescents who'd prefer to save the world only after getting their rocks off.
While this may be the last announcement you'd expect to hear from Brian Wood, the writer's history with DV8 runs deep, and the new series is much more along the lines of the work that has made Wood so celebrated a creator. To learn more about that connection as well as the development, characters and story of "DV8: Gods and Monsters," CBR News sat down with Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs for this exclusive interview.
CBR News: If "Channel Zero" is about a pirate broadcaster in a world without free speech, and "Demo" is about real people dealing with real superpowers, and "Northlanders" is Viking adventures presented in a modern style, what is the high concept of your DV8?
Brian Wood: It's the characters, the DV8 kids, that really interest me, and I just want to create a story that gets inside their dysfunctional heads and their messed-up relationships with each other, give them something incredible and epic to grapple with, and see how they emerge from it.
Tell us about the story of "Gods And Monsters."
The kids wake up to find themselves, quite literally, tumbling from the sky into the middle of an Stone Age world. It's implied that they kids, lab rats that they are, have been "on ice'" for some indeterminate period of time and now that they are put into this inexplicable situation, they have to sort it out while at the same time dealing with the problems and issues they have with each other. Very shortly, they realize that this is not earth that they are on, but some kind of alternate world at war, full of feuding tribes. And the arrival of eight brightly colored superhumans literally falling from the heavens into a primitive society like this? How can they not be taken as gods?
Flip it around - if you are that self-centered superhuman teenager being received by a rapt group of people who suddenly start worshiping you as a GOD, how tempting would it be to just play along with it, have some fun, enjoy it for as long as you can? Some problems with this: as the DV8 kids start individually being 'adopted' by various tribes and becoming part of their mythology, what about the fact that these tribes are all at war with each other? Here they are, a million miles from anything approaching an authority figure, brimming with superpowers and leading armies against each other. They story is called "Gods and Monsters" for a very good reason.
The DV8 kids, their powers are already primal in nature, which I think is why I like them so much. They're not typical powers like superspeed or being bulletproof or something like that. Copycat, her 'power' is that she's schizophrenic and hears voices. Powerhaus literally eats other people's emotions. Bliss delivers either orgasms or crippling pain with the touch of her finger. Evo turns feral. Threshold is a total sadist, and Sublime can alter her density to be as hard as a diamond or as intangible as mist (just about as perfect a description of a teenage poor-little-rich-girl's mood as I can think of). These are all perfect old-world, pagan god traits.
So, they being who they are, put into a situation that practically begs them to exploit it, and their long-running dislike for each other... there is a lot to work with here. "Lord Of The Flies" mixed with "The Man Who Would Be King," touches of my "Demo" and "Northlanders" all applied to what I think is one of the richest sets of characters in the WildStorm catalogue.
For more on the cast of DV8, here's a rare treat for your fans: some notes from the original Brian Wood proposal to WildStorm.
Matthew / Threshhold
Telepathy, precognitive abilities. He's the jock of the team but like most jocks who peak in high school, since he's been taken out of his leadership role he's just kind of a prick, sullen and unpredictable. He's a control freak that needs to learn how to allow others to screw up at times, to allow people he works with to be imperfect. Ironically, he himself screw up constantly, but even if he knows it, he's loathe to admit it to himself. Is he fit to be a leader? To use a cliche, that's up to him. Further complicating things, he has a worrying problem with administering corporal punishment.
Rachel / Sublime
Density, strength. Poor little rich girl, the closest we'll get to a gum-snapping teenage girl, but she's got a dark sheen to her, bitter and sarcastic. The world is not fair and will not bend to her will, no matter how much she expects it to. Rachel remains much the same as she's always been written, but we'll enjoy seeing her taken down a few notches, seeing her humbled at times.
Nicole, Nikki / Bliss
Sensory control, pain giver. She's one of the more fascinating ones, a sexed up girl who can deliver either pleasure or pain just by touching someone. Completely amoral, this one. Matthew's sister. Her arc will be one of the more interesting ones: She develops a pro-female consciousness that ties into her powers. Typically she's used her powers to manipulate men against their will, but what about women? This is a massive change for Bliss, a 180-degree reversal in everything she knows and how she saw the world. It'll present other problems that will need to be addressed, but this will re-introduce this character in a fascinating way.
Leon / Frostbite
Absorb heat, re-release power. He's the closest we have to a "hero." He has a big heart, the best of intentions, but he's one of those guys that's always trying to fix things for people, to be the rock for people to lean on, typically the women. He tries just a bit too hard to be the nice guy, and avoids confrontation as a result. He won't have a choice, though, at a point in the story and he's one of the characters whose arc will see him grow more cynical, more dark.
Hector / Powerhaus
Converts emotions to energy. He physically increases in size depending on the drama around him, which is just really fucking cool. Imagine what he's going to have to work with in the middle of a thousand men fighting hand to hand? Giants will have indeed walked this earth. So he absorbs all these emotions, but what if he can't quite discharge all of it? What of the emotional residue? He's a dark, complicated guy with a drug problem, and we'll see him detox in the story, as well as get some form of psychiatric help, appropriate to the times (vision quest, primitive medicines, etc).
Gem / Copycat
Multiple personalities, each with a unique skill. A coping mechanism. My favorite, and she should be the reader's guide to this new world.
Michael / Evo
Shapeshifting into a sort of feral dog. Self-loathing? His tribe really flocks to him, really sees him as an awesome entity, but deep inside Evo hates himself every time he changes, and hates these tribal people for liking him for it. But the more he mistreats them, the more they love him for his power.
Jocelyn / Freestyle
Probabilities, scenario-running. She's a complete neurotic, always in her own head and thinking 'big picture' too much to focus on the now. But its this sort of thinking, detached from the emotion and panic of the situation, that'll come up with the crucial solutions.
That's quite a group. Rebekah, what's your take on the bad kids of DV8?
Rebekah Isaacs: I think they're often referred to as "the bad kids" but I really don't see them as evil. Rather, they've just never had any real guidance, and besides the sadistic social and psychological experiments that Ivana puts them though, they're basically left to their on devices. Reading the old trades, it seemed like they each wanted to make something better of themselves but were just never given the tools or opportunities to do so. So I didn't want to portray any of them as just plain evil or psycho. They all have their unique fears and defense mechanisms that may make them seem so, but in the end they're all just unfortunately misguided kids.
Wood: I think as a group, they don't really know what they want, truly, as they have been used and misused by people like Ivan Baiul. Part of what this story helps to answer is that very question: what do you want? Or, what kind of person do you want to be? These kids are all over the map, emotionally-speaking, and in this world they're in.
How does Powerhaus deal with the raw, primal emotions of a Stone Age world? What will Threshold do after realizing he commands an army of devout and loyal soldiers? Each of them will be tested, their consciences and moral centers poked and prodded, and will they eventually get around to answer the overriding question of: who PUT them here and why?
I'm particularly proud of the second story in the series, in which Bliss is accepted as a "sex and death god" into a cult of female warriors. Not quite as lurid as it might sound, and I think her power is the most morally questionable out of the bunch of them.
And what about their appearances?
Isaacs: Stylistically, Brian wanted to avoid the old cliches as much as possible, so we tried to come up with outfits that could have been created from modified actual clothing straight off-the-rack. I think it's a great idea, to envision them walking through the mall and seeing a sweet track suit or motorcycle jacket and thinking "how could I streamline this and make it mine?"
I'm really hoping to bring back the hunter-gatherer look this season. I think the book also raises some interesting issues about how groups exert choose to exert power over others and the right-and-wrong-and-in-between of it all, so I hope that's not lost in the art. Plenty 'o' death and sex to boot! Then again, I'm getting scripts as we go along, so Brian could be planning a heart-warming tale for the child in all of us!
Brian, you've worked almost exclusively on creator-owned property. What is it about DV8 that brought you to this WildStorm property? How did this project come about?
This is the thing that is probably going to surprise a lot of people who read my work, and also make me sound a little dorky, but I've literally been trying to write this book for most of my career. I read Warren [Ellis's] run when it was coming out, which was right at the time I was trying to make my own comics. 1996-97, I was writing and drawing "Channel Zero" for Image. "DV8" was way ahead of its time and felt really edgy to me, and the characters were, for lack of a better word, really bad. To each other, and to themselves. Total headcases, selfish and stupid the way teenagers are, but so firmly convinced that they, and they alone, know what's right. Damaged goods, all of them, but so human just the same. It stuck with me.
I know there was a lot of "DV8" that came after Warren's run, but it's those first few issues that really struck a chord with me and that's the DV8 I was interested in working with.
I'm pretty sure it was a DV8-esque pitch that I showed Warren that got him to invite me to write "Generation X" with him, and "DV8" absolutely went a long way towards informing my book "Demo." I've pitched DV8 to WildtStorm easily a half-dozen times over the last decade, and even this version now wasn't the easiest sell in the world. I like to think it speaks to the quality of my story that it convinced WildStorm to re-launch this book despite not having any previous plans to do so. Ben Abernathy, my editor, has been really supportive of my crazy drive to get this book back into the land of the living.
Rebekah, you're a newcomer to comics. How did you come from Savannah College of Art and Design to DV8?
Isaacs: I knew I wanted to make art my career by high school, and the Sequential Art program at SCAD seemed like a logical choice. That's when I really started reading comics seriously and thinking "Wow, I want to do this." I abandoned sleep, solid foods and human connection until I got my diploma, which disappointingly did not magically make me a Totally Bad-Ass Artist. But Devil's Due liked my stuff enough to take a chance on me and from there I just rolled along. While I was working on "Drafted" and "Sheena" there, I would send stuff to editors that I'd met through SCAD periodically to get feedback. Then there was kind of a dry spell where I no work for months and hit the donuts pretty hard. I finally attended my first con and New York Comic Con in 2008, which is where I got my first mainstream gig, "Ms. Marvel" #38.
And what about the DV8 gig specifically?
Isaacs: Good old-fashioned blackmail. And I'd been bothering the heck out of [editor] Will Dennis at Vertigo for months, poor guy. As the legend goes, Brian asked him to recommend a new artist for the DV8 reboot, and he suggested me. I'd also met the editor for the project, Ben Abernathy, at karaoke during NYCC and my spot-on Rivers Cuomo must have won him over. I was just wrapping up my Ms. Marvel fill-in, and hadn't lined anything else up, so the timing was perfect.
Brian, your work is very distinctive and confronts themes of identity, injustice, love/friendship, violence, politics, and youth, all presented in a way most agree is very authentic in a cultural and emotional way. Do you think "DV8: Gods and Monsters" will fit in among that body of work? How will it differ? Will "DV8" be an obviously Brian Wood book as opposed to, for want of a better phrase, a corporate superhero book?
Wood: Yeah, this is important: my "DV8" is absolutely, one hundred percent, a "Brian Wood" book, as you put it. I've spent virtually my entire career building up a body of creator-owned work and for the most part not seeking out work on company books. I always knew that if the right company book came along, if it made sense and fit in with my existing projects, I would do it. It has to make sense, it has to be something that won't alienate the readership I've worked so hard for all this time.
My "DV8" is a lot like my "Demo" and like "Local" and probably a little like "Supermarket" - hitting themes of identity and friendships, family and loss. It's a very character-driven book, eight characters each getting the spotlight in this eight-issue series. On top of that, I bring a lot of the stuff I've been researching for "Northlanders" into the mix, the clash of old vs. new and history and paganism and myth.
What does Rebekah bring to "DV8: Gods and Monsters?"
Wood: She incredibly talented, and one of those really young artists that tend to drive all of us crazy with that talent. I didn't know her prior to starting to work with her, but readers of mine know I've been very blessed to work with brilliant emerging artists, and Rebekah is no different. I can only imagine what she must have thought, meeting me on an early Sunday morning for breakfast, listening to me rattle on and on about Stone Age weapons and death cults and the precise color of Copycat's Puma tracksuit. But she stuck around and is turning in beautiful work, and on a schedule that Ben Abernathy must be positively overjoyed with.
And Rebekah, how are you enjoying working with Brian?
Isaacs: He's been so awesome to work with. Obviously, as an artist himself, he's great at visualizing scenes and compositions but is also really easy-going and encouraging of me to try my own ideas. But the visual guidance has been tremendously helpful and I think it's been invaluable for me as a relatively new artist to work with someone who can relate. He's also super passionate about this series and the characters, and had a very unique and distinct take on them from the start. If you think the new designs look cool (and if you don't, i'll cut ya), then thank Brian the next time you see him! He gave me the freedom to change things as I saw fit, but the descriptions he gave me were so cool to start out with that I never wanted to.
How much involvement will DV8 have within the larger WildStorm universe?
Wood: "DV8: Gods and Monsters" does not intersect with the WildStorm Universe. Honestly, I am leaving that up to my editor to advise me on. I'm just writing this story and it doesn't seem like what's happening in any of the other books in the line will impact it, but if it ends up that it does, they'll let me know. So far, though, this all seems like it'll be a 100% pure stand-alone story that someone can read without knowing what else is up in the Universe.
Do you have a desire to do any more work with the DV8 characters beyond "Gods And Monsters?"
Wood: It's a self-contained, stand-alone story, and that's all I've committed to at the moment. I guess I can't rule out writing more beyond that, but if not me I hope someone else takes it over, since I am trying to reintroduce/revitalize this book and I'd love to see it keep coming out.